Japan’s Rugby League Delays Start as Virus Looms Over Olympics

Japan’s rugby Top League delayed the start of its season after Covid-19 outbreaks were discovered among several teams.

A total of 18 players and staff on three teams received positive tests, the Japan Rugby Football Union said in a statement. The decision comes as Japan deals with its most severe wave of coronavirus infections to date. The government on Wednesday broadened a state of emergency to encompass most of the country’s largest metropolitan areas as the surge casts a cloud over the feasibility of holding the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.

While rugby is not yet a major sport in Japan, its profile has continued to grow after the Rugby World Cup was held in the country in 2019, and the sport is set to feature in the Tokyo Olympics. As the virus surges to unprecedented levels not just in Japan but in many competing nations, the fate of the games remains in the balance.

The resumption of sports around the world was seen as a signal that the Tokyo games could go forward, but as the pandemic continues to surge, outbreaks are increasingly impacting leagues from the National Basketball Association to soccer’s Premier League. The decision by Japanese professional sports leagues to delay or cancel their seasons could be a bellwether for the Olympics.

Professional sports in Japan were largely canceled in spring but many leagues had returned to action by summer, with baseball and soccer games even welcoming some masked fans by July -- making Japan one of the first countries last year to hold large-scale sporting events with spectators during the pandemic.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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